Attitudes that help or hinder
He will have to recognize that not only the universe outside but his own nature inside is governed by precise laws, and that his spiritual progression is subject to such laws, too.
If the request for enlightenment comes from the bottom of your heart, the answer will likewise be given there. It may come at once, or after a long time. If you are too impatient, if you don't find it worth waiting for, if you give up too soon, you do not deserve it.
So long as he is measuring every inch of his progress along the spiritual path, so long as he is constantly measuring and often admiring his own virtues, he is really so preoccupied with his own ego that his bondage to it becomes more dangerous as it becomes more deceptive.
To the extent that he opens himself out passively to the higher self, its guidance, instruction, and messages, to that extent he will make real and safe progress. But he must be careful not to try to impose his own ideas upon this guidance, not to seek to instruct the mystic Instructor, not to interfere with the process of transmission from the higher self to the egoic mind.
With the intelligence to perceive and the frankness to confess his faults and shortcomings, progress becomes possible. Without them it remains slow and halting.
The key to understanding Lao Tzu's book, The Simple Way, is to understand that it describes a goal and not a path to a goal. It does not give advice to aspirants as to what they should do, but it describes the actualized condition of an adept. Hence it would be foolish for aspirants to adopt its policy of Wu-wei, meaning inaction, doing nothing, to take one instance, and let everything be done for them--as it would be foolish for a sheep to dress itself up in the skin of a lion and then attempt the exploits of a lion. It would be foolish for a beginner to apply the technique, adopt the way of life, assume the power, and expect the results of an adept. He would begin with self-deception and end with confusion. He would fail because he has not yet himself attained contact with the ruling power.
Progress does not consist in picking up different scraps from a medley of cults and sects. It consists in hard work in meditation, in taking oneself well in hand, in reflective study.
The way to make these changes for most people is not the herculean sudden way. It is to make them gradually and progressively, as the direction to do so comes from within themselves. Until then they will wait; they will not heroically go over to the new regime prematurely, just because some book or some reformer or some lecturer urges them to do so. This may not be the most self-flattering way but it is the most prudent way. They will not be troubled by secret longings for the abandoned regime.
It would be wrong to expect that he must duplicate somebody else's mystical experiences and equally wrong to regard himself as a failure because he does not have these experiences.
In most cases the imagination is excited by the belief that great secrets will be unveiled as the aspirant passes from grade to grade with the years. But the difficulty of making this passage is usually underrated and the nature of these secrets overrated.
The aspirant should emulate the philosopher's patience and not sit down every day to feel his spiritual pulse, as it were, constantly worrying as to whether he is making progress, remaining stagnant, or going backwards. He needs to remember that enlightenment cannot be attained by a single act but only by slow degrees and constant toil. Yet unexpected cycles of quickened progress may come on him unaware. There may be times when his inner being will seem to burst open in sudden bloom. But generally there will be no smooth onward progress all the way for him. His spiritual situation will vary strikingly from time to time. The final accomplishment can be brought about only in stages.
If he seems to be standing still, or if he seems to have lapsed and regressed, he ought to enquire at what point in the road left behind him he took the wrong turn.
Men, filled with pardonable anxiety or natural eagerness, often ask: How long will it take me to accomplish this spiritual work? A definite period in years cannot be stated in the answer. Whoever thinks in this way will never be able to succeed in the task. For how can he enter the Eternal while he thinks only of time? All hurry must be abandoned. Let results take care of themselves, is the Bhagavad Gita's advice in this matter.
Progress along this path is not merely a matter of chronology; nobody may measure it with accuracy for nobody knows what forces may suddenly arise out of an individual's past to hinder him or what forces may suddenly arise out of the Overself to help him.
He must not forget that he is only a short way from the start of his journey, and should not assume attitudes or prerogatives suitable only to one who is well advanced.
How few are the aspirants who look for mastery of themselves as a reward not less gratifying than experience of spirit, for triumph over temper as being just as satisfactory as a mystical phenomenon!
The man who is ready to desert his quest or his master because no visible grace comes his way, because no joyous mystical ecstasies visit him, because nothing seems to happen in his inner life, needs to become acquainted with three facts of that life. The first is that grace may come and not be recognized for what it is. The second is that his personal emotions are not necessarily a correct measure of his spiritual progress. The third is that the true quest leads for a time through the dark lonely forest of inner poverty, where the man has nothing to boast of, is nothing to be proud of, and experiences nothing to compensate for the worldly life which he has sacrificed. It is indeed a dark night of the soul.
The aspirant who prefers to see himself as much more advanced than he really is, is suffering from the inflation of a strong ego. The aspirant who prefers the opposite view and prefers to underrate his position is suffering from the inferiority of a feeble ego. Both attitudes are undesirable.
Too many beginners become discouraged because progress is slow, or even non-existent. But, really, much depends on the point of view. Without succumbing to the sugary over-optimism of an Emerson, which could make him write that "the soul's highest duty is to be of good cheer"--in such contrast to Buddha's oft-repeated insistence that its highest duty is to see life as suffering--they can at least admit that they have made a start on this conscious quest of truth, that they have discovered there is such a quest, and that there is a magnificent climax to the human adventure. They can be thankful for all this. I have known some men who took this view, who enjoyed being questers, who were even enthusiastic although they had had no inner experiences and made no dramatic progress. They were positive, not negative, thinkers.
During my travels, I have watched so many aspirants make so many unavailing attempts to gain this higher awareness that I would have been unobservant indeed if I had not drawn the lesson. This was that those who were most easily discouraged and disheartened, failing to try out new roads or to persevere in the old one, were too frequently those who sank into the apathy of accepted failure.
Their very eagerness to advance incapacitates them from advancing, for it merely swells the ego from which they want to run away.
Too many aspirants complain about their seeming lack of progress, their failure to get encouraging inner experiences in payment for their effort. If they were humble enough they would not complain, for then they would not be measuring how high they had grown. If they must look at all, it would be better to look for a finer character than for stranger phenomena.
It is a mistake to believe that something must happen inwardly to show that he is making progress, that some dramatic experience or stimulating revelation must come to him as a reward for his taking time out to meditate. It is wiser to be satisfied with settling down and being calm, with the patient surrender to the Overself's will. He must learn how to wait.
If his actions lag behind his aspiration, he need not be unduly depressed. He can be modest and even humble in accepting the fact that he has far to go, but this acceptance should be made quietly and calmly because it should always be supported behind by hope and faith.
Murmurings against the paucity of dramatic or phenomenal or ecstatic results, and lamentations over the hardships of a quester's lot, may be expected but must be rejected. Did he anticipate a special good fortune because he took to the quest? Was he to become exempt from the darker side of the human condition as a reward? Did he not see then, and does he not realize today, that the search for truth is long and difficult by its very nature?
Lest the complacent consciousness of progress should give rise to spiritual pride, let him remember that a change of circumstances may shatter it.
We may take Buddha's half-smile as an encouragement: both to set our footsteps on the Way and to set all desires aside, to be content even with a slight result from our spiritual efforts.
If people stop half-way or quarter-way on this path, who can blame them? The more they come to know what is really demanded of them, the more they come to see its difficulty, even its seeming impossibility.
There are those who draw back after some years, or desert altogether, complaining that the disciplines and regimes of the Quest are too much for them, and that even the few successes took too many years out of a lifetime to be worth waiting for. There is no adequate reply for such complaints. Nobody is asked, forced, or cajoled to go on this quest. Each must come to it of his own free choice. Those who remain do so because they consider the worldly alternative to be worse.
Those who do not find that they make the expected progress and throw up the Quest in disappointment, reveal not only their own impatience but also insufficient understanding of what it is that they undertook.
It is perhaps pardonable that he should feel frustrated as the fulfilment of his aspirations, the matching of his perfectionist dreams, seems to slip farther away with the vanishing years.
Those who repine pessimistically at the slowness of their growth, who talk in disenchanted tones about the futility of the Quest, need to feel the invigorating and blessing touch of Grace.
His self-reproach and self-disgust will grow to such a height that a fresh start in a fresh birth will sometimes seem the only way out.
By contemplating the inner sun, the Overself, he is inevitably drawn upward in increasing light, whereas by excessively preoccupying himself with the ego he becomes depressed into increasing darkness. When the latter happens the very quest which was supposed to diminish his sorrow and enlarge his peace, becomes a fresh source of sorrow and agitation.
If the Quester's hopes are not fulfilled nor his aspirations realized, it may be that he is demanding too much too soon from himself, his spiritual guide, or his spiritual technique. It may also be that he is undertaking what he is unprepared for and that he has not equipped himself for the journey.
The inability to feel this presence is not necessarily a sign of failure; it is one of their vicissitudes which aspirants often complain about. It is well to remember that these usually come to an end. There are times when a man must not accept his follies and weaknesses but discipline them instead. Intelligence must take their place, and he must support it by yielding to its rulership.
Let him be sincere with himself, neither overrating his stature nor underrating it, neither indulging false hopes nor exaggerating his discouragements.
If his first step on this path is wrong, all his later steps will necessarily be wrong. In the end he will either have to retrace his steps or else take to the Short Path.
The student should keep in mind that it is not needful to feel tension about the Quest. He must strive to be patient and not try to measure his progress every few weeks.
He who thinks only of the obstacles in his way will never attain the goal. It is necessary to meditate on, and work to develop, positive qualities which will make progress possible.
Aspirants should beware of mistaking an evanescent and emotional feeling that they are making spiritual progress for the real thing.
If past efforts for many years have been useless and ended in failure, this merely means that he has exhausted the possibilities of the road he has been travelling and that he has to start on a new road.
He may find a little light after much searching.
Blavatsky herself, at the height of Theosophy's power and influence, stated that hardly six of her followers understood the Goal and had any favourable prospect of reaching it. Does it follow that a reasonable man will be too disheartened to enter on the path to such an inaccessible goal? No--he need not be.
The aspirant who frequently measures how far he has advanced, or retrograded, upon this path, or how long he has stood still, is seeking something to be gained for himself, is looking all the time at himself. He is measuring the ego instead of trying to transcend it altogether. He is clinging to self, instead of obeying Jesus' injunction to deny it. Looking at the ego, he unwittingly stands with his back to the Overself. If he is ever to become enlightened, he must turn round, cease this endless self-measurement, stop fussing over little steps forward or backward, let all thoughts about his own backwardness or greatness cease, and look directly at the goal itself.
If, however, he dwells upon his spiritual development and changes of mood, his sins and faults all the time and with all his mind, he is likely to overbalance himself. An extravagant preoccupation with his own ego would then result. This would not be true progress. A wise spiritual director, if he has one, could do no better than thoroughly shake him and tell him to go out and get some social enjoyment or see some funny plays, where he can forget himself and lose this unhealthy obsession with his self-centered thoughts and morbid emotions.
Trapped as they are by their own limitations, looking in the wrong direction for fulfilment of aspiration, bound to their past and therefore going round in circles, it is understandable if they complain of the failure to make any substantial progress.
It is a fact that as he progresses on this quest methods, techniques, ideas, and practices which suited the elementary stages of development later obstruct him.
If you find progress to be slow and the promised rewards still out of sight, do not despair. Be patient as Nature herself is patient. Find, if you can, the friendship of those more advanced than yourself and receive from their presence the stimulus to become unhurried by time and unhurt by moods of impatience. The path may be a long one, but when success comes it comes unexpectedly and the final stages are short and rapid. It is the earlier and more elementary stages which are long drawn out. You are not in a position to judge exactly what progress you have made. This is why you must have great patience.
Sources, signs, and stages of growth
Whether one is hardened by overcoming unpleasant setbacks or encouraged by the sunshine of cheering successes, this is the strange paradox of the path: out of its multitude of defeats and disappointments, mistakes and disillusionments comes forth wisdom, and after wisdom, victory.
It is true that there are sacrifices to be made on the way, culminating one day perhaps in the biggest one--the ego's compulsive will to insert itself in every situation or activity--but there are also consolations and compensations to counterbalance them. If certain habits have to be given up and certain satisfactions dropped, new intuitions, signs of progress, inner supports, encouragements, and learnings appear.
He may know that he is beginning to progress when he becomes his own strictest judge, his own severest critic.
His degree of advancement will not only be shown by the deepest point touched in meditation but also by the way of handling everyday situations.
The fact that he has faithfully and perseveringly kept going on the course that leads to the higher self will count for something even if he fails to reach it. For it will satisfy conscience, attract occasional inspirations or enlightenments, and prepare the way for eventual success in another birth. The constant effort to follow the spiritual quest produces in time all the qualifications needed to achieve its goal.
Even if he did no more than study the teaching, even if he felt that inward weakness and outward circumstance placed its practice beyond his reach, his time would not be wasted and the study would still be beneficial. For whilst he imbibed these ideas and dwelt upon them from time to time, they would have a long-range effect. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, his passions would abate, his faults would be tempered, and his virtues would be reinforced.
The very changes which he makes in habits, regimes of living, and inherited customs, are often signs that the Overself is being allowed to do its cleansing work in him.
Quite apart from the spiritual rewards, there are additional and tangible ones also--better health, greater achievement, and less avoidable self-earned trouble.
Not only when his associates find his outer behaviour, which they can observe, unobjectionable but also when he finds his inner reactions to them, which they cannot observe, unobjectionable, should he be satisfied that his faults are amended.
The seeker passes through different moods, phases, and states during the years. Equanimity is still only an ideal but its attainment is more likely to be nearer than not as the years pass. But he may not think so until he measures his attitudes of an earlier date with those of today.
When a man turns his back on erroneous thought and sinful conduct and penitently seeks to cultivate wisdom and virtue, he enters on a path whose rate of progression and particular course are alike incalculable. For they are in God's hands and only partly in his own.
Study, prayer, meditation, and discipline of motive, mind, and body will yield their results according to the intensity with which they are undertaken and the wisdom with which they are combined. The best results naturally come from the greatest intensity and the fittest balance.
He has gone far on this path when his last thought on falling asleep at night is the Overself and his first thought on waking up in the morning is again the Overself.
You may certainly hope for success when the whole trend of your thinking and the whole trend of your action is strongly directed to this single purpose only, when you have resolutely subordinated personal feelings and temperamental predilections to the solution of the problem of truth.
If the discovery of Overself is still absent, then the search has not been deep enough or long enough or valued enough.
When the sense of his own imperfections, his own failings, so overwhelms him at times that he falls into deep depression, into gloomy despondency, it will help to weaken the ego's pride and conceit.
There are definite stages wherein the feelings become purer, nobler and calmer, the desires thinner, lesser, and more refined, the thoughts positive, larger, and more concentrated.
He who has nurtured the thoughts and cultivated the stillness and behaved by the injunctions which philosophy has offered him will, when the late evening of his life comes, not only never regret it but be glad for it.
Let him look to the condition of his consciousness: Is it steady or fluctuating? Is it permeated with egoism to the point of being shrivelled up? Is it widely impersonal? These and several other signs may give the measure of his progress.
The kind of question he asks and even the way in which he puts it helps to show where he stands on the path to Truth and how much he has understood.
The quester moves from beginning to end--if it could be said that there really is an end--under a higher will. It is not only the point that he sets out to reach that matters but also the point that he will be permitted to reach. But this is not arbitrarily and capriciously predetermined. His own karma comes into play here.
Two trustworthy evidences of real progress are attainment of balance and attenuation of ego.
If anyone really wants to progress, let alone succeed, I do not know any way of escaping these two indispensable conditions: exercise and perseverance.
When the student on this path assumes failure will be the only outcome of his efforts to progress spiritually, this pessimistic attitude overlooks the fact of grace. Admittedly the actuality of forgiveness for past errors does depend on sincere, humble repentance in prayer and to a certain extent on self-denying amendment and self-disciplining reform. If this is done, a basis for hope does exist and can be sought.
Even if for any reason immediate achievements are not possible, there yet exist other motives for striving to do what he can in self-improvement. By that, the remaining years of his lifetime would be assisted and protected in different ways and, at the last, the next reincarnation would be made so much better and probably easier. If he really accepts the principle of rebirth, then both the long view and the immediate possibility counsel a continuance of aspiration and endeavour. Hope is dead only when faith is dead.
That few persons out of many seekers succeed in finding this spiritual fulfilment to more than a relative extent is undeniable. Why this should be so is not only due to the difficulty of complying with all the requirements of the Quest but also to the kind of nervous system inherited from parents; to the character of the destiny allotted by the Law of Recompense; to the environmental and educational conditioning of the earlier years of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; and finally to the rarity of competent teachers or guides.
They can measure progress less by these things than by how much they have mastered the lower nature, how often they deny the ego its desire to preponderate, and how willing they are to detach themselves from emotional reactions.
The quester who stops somewhere on the way, either dismayed by his own transgressions or exhausted by the paucity of results, is excusably human. The sooner he gets back to the herd the better for his comfort. The fact is that no results can be promised: all results are only probable. If he expects to obtain a mystical experience, he must not forget that Grace is the giver of it, not his own efforts.
He may measure progress partly by the signs of strengthened intuition and partly by the signs of strengthened will.
It is a sign of inner growth when a man lets go of anxieties in his mind while doing what he can in his body.
Although he will feel greater humility as he advances, it is also true that he will feel greater certainty.
There is the ever growing awareness of transmaterial existence, the deepening peace of it, and the increasing accumulation of inspiring knowledge.
Growth is to be measured in terms of consciousness and understanding, character and intelligence, intuition and balance in their totality, and not in terms of any single one of these alone.
If it be asked why cases of illumination are so rare and so isolated, we must point to the steep, rugged character of the way leading to it.
In the end, it is individual endeavour helped by grace that wins. The one is not without the other.
If these statements quoted--one from the Bhagavad Gita declaring that of thousands who seek the Atman only one finds it, and the other from the New Testament declaring that many are called but few are chosen--if these statements are to be taken literally, then the efforts of the vast majority of aspirants are doomed to tragic failure and it then becomes a question why anyone should engage in such a hopeless lottery with the odds against him so formidable as to make the game not worthwhile. Why too did those great seers who made these statements nevertheless go on to encourage their followers to engage in the task? Why if they really wanted their followers to engage in it did they not keep secret the hopelessness of the task? These are serious questions.
Even if an aspirant does not attain his goals, if he is patient and persevering, studious and reflective, he should be able to get from the years a modicum of settled peace. It may not be much, but at least it is something which most others do not have.
Slowly, imperceptibly, hectic impatience, unnecessary haste, often even flaming anger, fade out of his being as peace comes into it.
It is true that no spiritual effort is ever made in vain either in the individual struggle for progress or in the way individual progress influences others.
The Quest is a long drawn-out affair and self-improvement is a slow, unsatisfying process. Nevertheless, from a long-range point-of-view, a great deal of progress can be made in a single lifetime, and he who seeks to traverse this path is not walking alone.
The time may suddenly arise when Grace will take a hand in the matter, and the student's outward life will begin to conform to the mental ideal which he has so long--and, seemingly, so vainly--held for it.
He must remember that he is subject to trials of faith and character which he might not otherwise have had. He simply must believe that if he does his share towards the fulfilment of his duties the results pass out of his hands and become God's concern. He must therefore leave it to God to arrange the ways and means whereby he will be able to discharge his responsibilities. He must have enough faith to believe that he will not be let down. It often happens to one on this path that what he greatly needs does not come to him when he prematurely asks for it but only comes when the need is actually ripe. This combination of doing his bit and then trusting in God will carry him through all his difficulties.
Eventually, one will tend to dislodge oneself from less worthwhile pursuits. Ordinary automatic responses to these and other worldly affairs will cease as one feels the deepening need for thought-stilling and inner peace.
The mind must go on gradually parting with its ancient illusions, its time-fed prejudices, hardly aware of any progress, until one fateful day truth triumphs abruptly in a vivid flash of supreme illumination.
When this feverish desire for wonderful or emotional mystic experiences comes to an end, being replaced by recognition of the great fundamental truths about God and Overself, or by a quiet trust which turns his spiritual future over to the higher power's care, he will have made a real advance.
The errors and superstitions of the earlier stages have to be discarded as he advances, but the truths and achievements retained.
The longing for personal affection to come from another person will fall away just as, at an earlier stage, the craving for the physical gratification fell away.
Ever mindful of the presence of the World-Idea in all events and all history, of the working of the World-Mind through cosmic change, development, and decay, his conviction becomes ever stronger as proof accumulates.
It takes much inner experience, much reflection on the immutable laws, and much outer experience that confirms those laws before his confidence in the divine wisdom becomes as unshakable as a rock, and before all negative moods become powerless to touch him.
His quest will begin to bear fruit when the sacrifice it entails and the discipline it enjoins are borne, not with unwilling emotions and hesitating thoughts, but with clear understanding and patient resignation.
It is quite possible to make progress on the Quest without the aid of a teacher. The aspirant's own higher self will give him the guidance and assistance he needs--provided he has sufficient faith in its existence.
The exhilarating phenomena and ecstatic experiences which often make the quest's beginning so colourful have no permanence in themselves but only in their effects. When they come to an end, a force is left behind which works upon the psyche both to integrate it with the departed inspiration and to prepare it for the next one.
All classifications and systemizations of the mystical ascent are in a certain sense artificial and arbitrary. They exist to satisfy the intellect's requirements but by themselves they cannot satisfy the Overself's requirements. Aspiration, faith, determination, sacrifice, or service may, if carried to extreme intensity, upset all such schemes and quickly win its Grace. The aspirant will pass through a succession of levels of spiritual awareness, each higher than the one before. But he will not pass through it mechanically and smoothly. Between the first step on the mystical path and the gaining of its glorious prize, an existence of ups and downs, of terrible darknesses and exhilarating enlightenments, of shameful weakness and satisfying endeavour, awaits him.
Owing to the presence of such unknown factors as Grace and emotional stability, a fixed period cannot be assigned for development and it is not possible to make correct, generalized statements about the time required for its various stages. That is entirely a matter of the individual's situation, character, and the development he has brought over from former births. Also it would be wrong to suppose that during the ascent, these stages always and necessarily follow each other in the prescribed order. This would have to be the case if we were climbing a physical mountain like the Matterhorn or if we were mastering an intellectual profession like law. But here there is, first, an X-factor involved--Grace--and, second, delayed-action tendencies or acquirements from former earth-lives. Therefore, the different stages may sometimes exist side by side.
Some who enter upon this Quest pass swiftly through its early stages but most do not. Most men are destined to pursue the Quest through a long discipleship. Alas! how long is the way, how slow the journey of self-unmasking. On this road one eventually learns that the notion of a quick, abrupt victory is often a deceptive one. Rather will it be found that nature's usual way of slow growth with occasional spurts must be followed.
If this quest is pursued, then the advance of age should bring advance of wisdom to the philosophical student who should grow morally stronger and mentally taller with the years. With continuous perseverance on the quest, his life becomes stabilized and his energies concentrated. His advance will be marked no less by deeper thoughts and steadier emotions, by kindlier words and nobler emotions in the ordinary round of daily life, as by subtler intuitions and serener meditations in the hidden life. He will advance inwardly beyond the common intellectual limitations and find that no book can give him the feeling of rich living presence, the sense of real glorious being, that these intuitions evoke within him. Out of these long years of spiritual travail, he will emerge with chastened mood and deepened conscience; indeed, the measure of his advancement will be tokened by the gradual alteration of his reaction to events, by the serenity which replaces sorrow and the indifference which replaces joy.
How he is to apply this philosophy to particular situations in everyday living--for we live in practical times and a teaching is judged and tested not only by what it claims to do but also by what it actually does--is quite rightly a man's own business and responsibility. He has taken to philosophy not only for the truth it contains but also for the happiness it yields. He desires its intellectual doctrines and delights in its practical results. The philosophic mentality is sufficiently realistic not to waste time on impossible goals. It is sufficiently idealist not to leave out the nobler possibilities of regulating and governing itself for both its spiritual and physical benefit. It is neither foolishly sentimental nor brutally calculating. It understands both what can immediately be done to better its life and what will eventually have to be done. Anyone can sit down and draw up a program for self-reform which will fall to pieces when put to the test of practical experiment, but only a philosopher can sit down and draw up a program based on hard facts yet illumined by the lantern of a true desire to improve his spiritual situation and infused with the imagination to understand and the understanding to imagine the better man that he ought to be. If the philosopher has no time to indulge in impracticable mirage-like plans, he has the capacity to perceive practical possibilities not beyond actual human scope although they may be beyond conventional human vision.
So, the natural question which arises, "What is the meaning, what is the value of philosophy for my life?" may be answered.
When the picture of himself is no longer pleasing to him but on the contrary, painful, he is beginning to see truly. When he passes from the stage of self-pity to that of self-loathing he is beginning to progress effectively.
During this first period of his development he learns to shed tensions and to achieve poise.
In the earlier stages of his development the aspirant is helped by being told exactly what to do. But in the later stages the less this is done the better for him.
To say, as some mystics do, that no method can be formulated for the progress of man toward spiritual self-realization, is to confess their own inadequacy. Did not the foremost of Spanish mystics, Saint John of the Cross, write out an almost mathematical chart of this progress?
There are remarkable experiences on the way, each of which may seem to signal the finding of God and lead him to tell others about it or to set out to advise and help them. But they are pseudo-enlightenments in the sense that the goal is still farther away.
Is it possible to take part in the world's pursuits and still make solid spiritual progress? The answer depends upon the particular phase of inner life through which a man is passing. The young tender plant could not endure what the older and more solidly established one could.
It is true that many may find the quest more difficult without personal freedom to meditate undisturbed and without privacy to study the inspired texts. This will be more pronounced in the beginning perhaps. But a time will come when the circumstances may change outwardly or inwardly by the benignant work of grace.
Most aspirants go through a period of disgust with the world and of scorn for the petty aims of their fellows. They feel, as in this scrap of verse by H.G. Hopkins, "Now, severed from my kind by my contempt, I live apart and beat my lonely drum."
A mere belief in the soul's existence is the first and shortest step. An intellectual study of its nature and a devotional discipline of the self is the next and longest step. A direct intuitive realization of the soul's presence is the third and last one.
At a certain stage, following a period of concentrated study or activity, it may become necessary to slow down for a while in order to achieve some measure of clarity and harmony--both in one's inward and in one's outward life. Further progress is not possible until this has been satisfactorily accomplished.
At a certain stage of development, it is more important to work hard at self-improvement and to detect hidden weaknesses and remedy them than to attempt anything else.
There is a definite spiritual pattern to be worked out in the quester's life. At some time, for instance, he will be urged from within or driven from without to care properly for the body through diet, cleansings, breathings, and exercise. These are important for his purification.
The quester who has reached a sufficiently advanced stage becomes keenly aware of the paradoxes and contrarieties of his life.
The Soul is always there but he has to use prayer, meditation, and moral self-discipline to become aware of it. He should pray for its Grace, meditate on its presence and reality, and purify his thoughts and emotions by disciplining them. To turn away from human desires is hard. So to speed the process, the Soul puts him through agonizing ordeals, tragic bereavements, or great losses. Only after a deep melancholy falls on the mind and a thorough disgust for the unsatisfactoriness of earthly life settles on the heart, does he really yearn for the Soul. This is the mystic death. Only after it comes the second birth.
His spiritual progress comes to a standstill because the motive of using it for healing disease or changing material conditions has served its purpose. It took him from a limited orthodoxy or a barren scepticism to a higher level of truth. Now he is called upon to relinquish this motive if he is to climb to a still higher level and thus fulfil the purpose of living.
At first he will find nothing more on the path than what his efforts can secure for him. This is why the earlier years often seem so long, so sterile, and so monotonous. But during the next period grace mingles with his efforts and encouraging results then appear. The third and last stage witnesses the gifts of the Overself falling like ripe plums into his lap without any further efforts on his part. Here all is done by the simple working of grace. Then the major virtues of life will come into his possession, not as arbitrary compulsions of an unwilling ego, but as ripe fruit falling into his hands from a sap-filled tree. For although it is often said that the spiritually evolved man undergoes a profound self-loss, which penetrates his whole nature and affects his whole expression, the truth is that he does not really lose himself in the new consciousness which has taken possession of him. He loses only his frailty and ignorance, his egoistic pettiness and mental distractedness, his body-based materialism and useless sorrow.